On January 27, the Serbian Orthodox Church celebrates the Day of St. Sava, the first Serbian Archbishop. Wherever they live, the Serbs spend this whole week organizing events and festive gatherings to celebrate this extraordinary man who made his mark on history and culture of the Serbian people and paved the way for future generations. Ljiljana Sindjelic Nikolic has more.
St. Sava was born around 1169 as Rastko Nemanjic, the youngest son of Serbian Grand Zupan Stefan Nemanja. Having been introduced to the Orthodox faith as a very young boy, he ran away from his father’s court to Mount Athos. He became a monk, received the monastic name Sava and embarked on his spiritual journey, looking up to Christ and practicing virtues and love. His efforts to fast, pray, get along with everyone, earned him the respect of not only monks on Mount Athos, but also throughout the Christian world. Thus, Sava persuaded the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to establish the Church in Serbia as an autocephalous body, with Sava himself as its archbishop. He travelled a lot, visited holy sites in the Holy Land, neighboring countries, and Egypt, helped monasteries and churches, reconciled brothers in conflict and the surrounding countries, dealt with the work of enlightenment, built hospitals and schools, educated the Serbian people, translating and writing.
His father, Stefan Nemanja, gave up his throne and joined his son on Mount Athos, receiving the name of Simeon. The two have renewed the dilapidated monastery Chilandar that has become and still is the most important monastery of the Serbian Orthodox Church. This is how the father and son paved the way to the Serbian people. Their names are also linked to the advent of cultural and intellectual achievements of the Serbs, survival of the Serbian state caught in the Balkan Maelstrom of both Eastern and Western political influences. He died in Bulgaria in 1236 after returning from the Holy Land. But his earthly biography does not end there since the Turks, because of his exceptional fame among the Serbs, took his remains from the Mileseva Monastery, and burned them in Belgrade in 1595. Not only that Sava’s name, a symbol of his Christian life, was not destroyed, but it went on to even greater fame, as he was canonized as a saint.
St. Sava is not a mythical or imaginary being that perpetuates human desire for goodness, but a living man whose conduct earned him, to use theological terms, entrance into God’s Kingdom, or, in plain English – respect and notability that have remained unchanged to this day. That is why St Sava’s Day is given such a great importance by the Serbs, because his name became a symbol of the nation and the deification of the Serbian people.
He summed up the faith, culture and history in the word, “St. Savahood”, which symbolically describes the Serbian road to Orthodoxy. Remembering St Sava on January 27, priests serving the Holy Liturgy in churches will speak about his life and mention his benevolence and brotherly love. They will recall how he reconciled brothers and statesmen, how he forgave and taught forgiveness, how he built schools, urged people to be better and love each other, and above all, showed great love for God. So the celebration of St. Sava is not only a reminder of what happened a long time ago, but encouragement to all to try hard and be better.